‘Tis now, replied the village belle,
St. Mark’s mysterious eve,
And all that old traditions tell
I tremblingly believe;
How, when the midnight signal tolls,
Along the churchyard green,
A mournful train of sentenced souls
In winding-sheets are seen.
The ghosts of all whom death shall doom
Within the coming year,
In pale procession walk the gloom,
Amid the silence drear.’
The Chambers Book of Days (produced by Robert Chambers) shows this poem under the entry for the 25th April, The Feast day of St Mark. The entry goes on to describe an old custom of the church porch watch or vigil. If upon the night of St Mark’s one were to sit and hold vigil within the parish church porch between the hours of 11pm to 1am “he will see the apparitions of all those who are to be buried in the churchyard during the ensuing year.”
A tempting and exciting prospect (also a little nerve racking!). So after spending most of March researching local churches, tracking down and visiting every possible venue which was sufficiently secluded, not lit up like Blackpool illuminations, had a churchyard and an open porch I finally settled on The Church of St Margaret of Antioch just down the road but hidden away enough for me to hold St Mark’s vigil in peace and secrecy. I must have visited twenty or so local churches before finding just the right one…at least that’s what I thought!
The big night finally arrives. I’m all set! Thermos flask loaded with tea, small candle lantern to see me through the vigil, full box of ciggies and a couple of lighters and away I go. I had barely started the car before the heavens opened. Torrential rain poured from the dark night sky, driving was treacherous and given that the build-up and anticipation for the coming vigil was already near overflowing, my nerves were close to breaking point! I was relieved to finally arrive safely at St Margaret’s.
That was until I got out of the car. Within seconds I was soaked though and freezing cold. “Keep going” I said to myself…cracking the whip behind every foot step towards the entrance to the churchyard. Then…I saw it…the porch door…shut!! I couldn’t believe it. My heart sank! Rain was pouring off the end of my nose and I scurried in the darkness up to the door frantically fumbling for the latch which was locked and bolted…I could go no further. The words “Epic Fail!” came to mind. I must have stood looking at those doors in the relentless rain for a good five minutes hoping they might miraculously open and grant me shelter and refuge.
All that broke my wilful attempts at telekinetic lock-picking was the glaring security light which suddenly came on from somewhere above me. Humiliating seemed to be the only fitting word to describe the scene. Here I was, standing in the pouring rain, wet through, nearly 11 o’clock, looking shaggy and dishevelled and to cap it off the almighty decided to put me under the spot light quite literally for all to see!
The situation was borderline ridiculous…I must admit, I did chuckle silently to myself once I got back into the warmth of my car. The clock struck 11…what had happened? I had been here at night on several reccy’s, no problems…open porch, no lights…Epic Fail!
I appreciate it’s not generally the norm in the craft community to boast about one’s failures, in fact I am starting to think I am the only witch who suffers such calamity at times (surely not?!) Not all my adventures are successful some are not even mildly fruitful. On this occasion it was in fact a complete wash out. It doesn’t matter how well prepared we think we are, the disastrous, the comical, the serendipitous, the strange, the foolish, the damn right ridiculous and even the epic failures have just as much, if not more to teach us about our craft than any fortuitous and endless successes we may enjoy, and are just as unpredictable.
The church porch vigil is something I have still to experience, after all everyone’s experience and explanation of such events is different. Perhaps someone ‘up there’ was telling me I had already got enough on my plate for now or perhaps someone ‘up there’ was just having a bloody good laugh at my expense. Either way I could do nothing but hold my hands up, surrender and admit defeat and see the funny side…there’s always next year…
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